Mekong activists demand international law regulating development projects
A network of Thai people living along the Mekong River are advocating an international law to protect the environment and human rights regarding international investments in the river basin, as the major lifeline is threatened by multiple projects.
The Thai People in Eight Mekong Provinces Network working group met in Chiang Rai’s Chiang Khong district yesterday, with participants concluding that the Mekong was under imminent threat of irreversible damage by proposed hydropower dam projects on the main tributary in China, Laos and Cambodia. The discussion also highlighted that there were still no effective legal tools to regulate projects.
China’s potential cancellation of the Mekong River navigation channel improvement project was also a major discussion topic. The working group considered whether the move was because the Chinese government had recently passed a new law forcing the Chinese investment board to respect the laws of destination countries and ensure that investments did not affect the environment or violate human rights.
On Tuesday, Thailand’s Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai said China would change the scope of the project or cancel it in order to relieve the concerns of Thai people over the adverse impacts to the environment and people’s livelihoods.
Community Resources Centre coordinator Sor Rattanamanee Polkla said China’s adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights was good news, resulting in a more positive trend of development on the river.
The network members also concluded that Chinese project owners in the region had become more active working with local people about their projects.
However, Sor Rattanamanee emphasised the need for an international law to safeguard the environment and human rights in the Mekong River region, given the current lack of oversight and existing projects generating problems for the environment and riverside residents.
“Even though Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam signed the Mekong Agreement 1995, there has been no real enforcement of the regulations in the agreement,” she said.
“Moreover, we have found that there have been many attempts to wrongly interpret projects’ scope to avoid the enforcement of the regulations in the Mekong Agreement, such as in the Khong-Loei-Chi-Mun water diversion project and the Mekong River navigation channel improvement project.”
She said everyone had a duty to demand and campaign for legal tools for environmental and human rights protections.
Meanwhile, Somkiat Keuanchiangsa, coordinator of the Network for Preservation of Natural Resources and Lanna Culture, also said strategic environmental assessments should be conducted before environmental impact to assess the value of projects in all aspects weighed against the cost to the river ecosystem.
Somkiat also asked the governments of Mekong countries to review the damage to the river over the past two decades, as people who depend on the region’s natural resources were suffering due to the degrading ecosystem resulting from development projects.